Wednesday, September 26, 2007

In Preparation for a Contest: tongue-twister

Rattling Books hereby gives notice
that we are preparing a contest.

It will be related to words.
It will be fun.
It will twist your tongue.

In preparation let us consider what Wikipedia has to say about the term tongue-twister.

Tongue-twisterFrom Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (we have abridged the following; to see the complete entry on Wikipedia click here)

A tongue-twister is a phrase that is designed to be difficult to articulate properly. Tongue-twisters may rely on similar but distinct phonemes (e.g., s [s] and sh [ʃ]), unfamiliar constructs in loanwords, or other features of a language.

The hardest tongue-twister in the English language (according to Guinness World Records) is supposedly The sixth sick sheikh's sixth sheep's sick. William Poundstone claims that the hardest English tongue twister is "The seething sea ceaseth and thus the seething sea sufficeth us."[1]


Many tongue-twisters use a combination of alliteration and rhyme. They have two or three sequences of sounds, then the same sequences of sounds with some sounds exchanged. For example, She sells sea shells on the sea shore. The shells that she sells are sea shells I'm sure.

This one won grand prize in a contest in Games Magazine in 1979
Shep Schwab shopped at Schwab's Schnapps shop;One shot of Scott's Schnapps stopped Schwab's watch.

Some tongue-twisters are short words or phrases, which become tongue-twisters when repeated rapidly (often expressed as "Say this five (or three, ten, etc.) times fast!"). Examples include toy boat, Peggy Babcock, Irish wristwatch, and Red Leather, Yellow Leather. Big whip is another that is difficult for some people to say quickly, due to the lip movement required between the "g" and "wh" sounds.


Some tongue-twisters are specifically designed to cause the inadvertent pronunciation of a swearword if the speaker stumbles verbally (see spoonerism). An example in Polish is ząb, zupa zębowa, dąb, zupa dębowa (a tooth, tooth soup, an oak, oak soup). The word dąb forces an unsuspecting victim to further utter dupa dębowa (oak arse).

An English example of this sort:
I'm not the pheasant plucker, I'm the pheasant plucker's mate,And I'm only plucking pheasants 'cause the pheasant plucker's late.I'm not the pheasant plucker, I'm the pheasant plucker's son,And I'm only plucking pheasants till the pheasant pluckers come.

Or another:
I am a mother pheasant plucker.I pluck mother pheasants.I am the most pleasant mother pheasant plucker,to ever pluck a mother pheasant.

Loanwords and other language elements

Certain loanwords contain unfamiliar constructs, which are used in tongue-twisters. For example, Finnish strutsin perhe (the family of an ostrich) has the consonant cluster "str", whereas such consonant clusters do not occur in native Finnish words. Repeated, this might be pronounced as "strutsin perse" ("ostrich's arse").